Town’s E.R. Blank Check

The East Hampton Town Board is poised tonight to approve an up-to-99-year lease for a Southampton Hospital-run emergency facility on land it owns off Pantigo Road in East Hampton. Given a number of unanswered — and even unasked — questions, the anticipated board action appears overhasty.

According to a hospital spokeswoman, even the basics of what would be built on the property have not yet been worked out; there is not even so much as an artist’s rendering. This means that at the public hearing tonight, at 6:30, the town board will be asked to make a nearly century-long commitment based only on verbal descriptions of what might be built there. Such a commitment would be an irresponsible example of how to manage public properties.

What is known so far is not much at all. A Little League ball field and a parking lot occupy the 4.5-acre property, which is zoned for parks and conservation. They would be replaced by a 54,000-square-foot building housing emergency treatment and diagnosis rooms and a pharmacy, as well as offices for primary care doctors and specialists. The town’s Planning Department looked at the property and reportedly found it less suitable than another site under consideration, on Stephen Hand’s Path.

As proposed, the hospital adjunct would be a shockingly large building for a town that defines commercial structures over 15,000 square feet as “superstores.” The traffic it would create would almost certainly make a stoplight at the Pantigo Road intersection necessary, adding to an already difficult section of Route 27. Workers and patients would in effect be helping to provide the commercial development of the site, which would then lower zoning standards on adjacent properties. And for what: a satellite of a hospital that itself is a satellite of the major treatment center in Stony Brook, where patients with the most serious conditions would continue to be flown by helicopter. 

The public rationale for the Pantigo Place site is that an emergency room someplace in East Hampton Town will be important after Southampton Hospital eventually moves to a new facility on County Road 39. That is true, but the relatively small property being considered tonight does not appear to be the best choice. 

Some emergency medical personnel have expressed the opinion that Stephen Hand’s Path would be a better location, serving a greater number of people by drawing patients from Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton in addition to East Hampton, Amagansett, Springs, and Montauk. Given the choice, ambulance drivers would head toward where the highest level of care could be found, not away from it by diverting to Pantigo Place.

Underpinning the decision about where to site an East Hampton facility is that the hospital seeks a high-visibility site in order to maximize donations. Indeed, of the estimated $38 million the facility would cost, less than a third has been promised in state funding; much of the rest would have to come from private contributions. Were it built off in the woods somewhere, the facility would be less likely to get a fat check from, say, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has a house less than a mile away from Pantigo Place, as do any number of other 1-percenters.

Given all these questions, and more, the East Hampton Town Board must hold off and know a great deal more about the hospital’s plans before it hands over the Pantigo Place property for almost 100 years.